CCHE approves the unavoidable

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday unanimously approved a 2012-13 allocation of state funding to colleges and universities that’s 5.7 percent below current levels.

Colorado college campus montage
From left, the campuses of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Auraria Higher Education Center.
While the legislative Joint Budget Committee and the full legislature can change the allocation, the formula may well hold because of one key fact – it was pre-approved by leaders of all the state’s colleges and system.

Allocation of state funds by campus is a perennially contentious process because every college president thinks his or her campus needs more money or isn’t treated fairly by a particular formula. In past years the commission has had to forge compromise among competing allocation plans advocated by different groups of state colleges and systems. Occasionally that lobbying has spilled into the legislative session as college leaders tried to influence JBC decisions.

But this year, faced with the inevitability of another round of budget cuts, college leaders and Department of Higher Education staff hammered out an agreement before Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2012-13 proposed budget was finalized. (The governor unveiled his budget earlier this week, setting up the commission vote.)

That process produced “something that is very unusual – a letter signed by all of them,” noted Lt. Gov. Garcia, who’s also director of DHE.

Matt Gianneschi, Garcia’s deputy, stressed the presidents’ agreement “is not a recommendation of satisfaction” with the amount of support.

Institutions would receive a total of $489.7 million next year, down from the current $519 million and down 30.6 percent from the recent high of $706 million in 2009-10. The totals include funds for Aims Community College and Colorado Mountain College, which aren’t directly controlled by the state, and for vocational schools. (See bottom of article for chart listing allocations by school and system.)

Under the agreement, allocation discussions would reopen “If changes in state revenue levels require substantial additional reductions,” in the words of the presidents’ letter.

State support has dropped to about a quarter of higher education revenue, with the majority of funding now coming from ever-rising tuition. On average statewide, resident undergraduate students probably can expect 9 percent increases in 2012-13, although rates will vary by campus.

The money will be allocated to institutions through a complex formula based on past cuts and on an institution’s ability to raise other revenues. Such a formula was used to award allocations for the current budget. A third element of the formula allocates $7.5 million based on enrollment growth. Some $10 million was used for enrollment compensation this year.

A second key element of Hickenlooper’s proposed higher ed budget is cutting state funding for financial aid to about $70 million from this year’s $100 million.

Matt Gianneschi
Matt Gianneschi / File photo
While that cut has raised concerns in some quarters, Gianneschi pointed out that the state provides only 5 percent of the total aid available to students at state colleges and universities. The federal government and the institutions provide the bulk.

The rationale behind the governor’s plan, Gianneschi said, is that imposing the whole budget cut on institutions and sparing financial aid would have threatened colleges’ ability to provide the levels of student support required by their financial accountability plans. (Those so-called FAPs also are the documents that detail individual college plans for future tuition rates. Links to FAPs.)

Commission member Regina Rodriguez asked, “How much does this translate into a decrease for the individual student?”

Gianneschi said, “We don’t yet know because we’ll have to see what enrollments look like,” adding “the reduction may be along the lines … say $300 to $350 per student.”

He also said that allocating a smaller number of dollars among more students might require a “counter-intuitive” allocation of financial aid, like directing a smaller share to low-income students, who are eligible for federal aid, and a larger share to middle-income students, who can’t get federal support.

The commission has the sole power to allocate state financial aid among institutions (including private and for-profit colleges) and will decide in a few months how to divvy up 2012-13 aid.

There’s been no prior agreement among institutions on allocation of aid, and some DHE staffers privately expect sharp-elbow lobbying by college leaders, even though the amount of money involved is relatively small.

All the talk about budget cuts prompted CCHE member David Edwards to ask, “Are we seeing signs yet of diminished quality?”

Gianneschi replied, “We can say that the quality that existed prior to the recession has been maintained, but we’re now starting to face the question” of future decline.

Garcia added, “Colorado is often held up as an example of how to do more with less” in higher education. “It’s not possible to continue that way forever.”

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call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”